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After covering the price of tampons for Seven Sharp, the Pharmac decision has me seeing red

TV reporter Kristin Hall spent much of 2016 drawing attention to the high price of sanitary products in New Zealand – a cost barrier that affects most women, but has serious implications for those at the bottom end of the income scale. Here she responds to this week’s decision by Pharmac not to fund sanitary products and explains why NZ women need cheaper tampons, period.

About two weeks ago I drove an hour to another town to wait for 4 hours so I could get some rods stuck in my arm. I did this because I have a uterus that I don’t want babies to be in at this particular moment.

As I drove through the Pyes Pa gorge, which was receiving a particularly enthusiastic dumping of rain, I thought about my situation. The day before I had called the Family Planning main line to book the ‘rods in the arm experience’ in my hometown of Rotorua. That wasn’t possible because, as I found out, Rotorua doesn’t have a Family Planning Clinic. I thought I’d book an appointment in Tauranga, the nearest town, but Tauranga didn’t have a free appointment until a month later, by which time I would be approximately 18,000 kilometres away. So off I toddled to the drop in centre to wait in my car like a leper for 240 minutes because at least I could take a nap in there. Then I got the rods in, the result of which was a) pain and b) a gigantic purple bruise which elicited many reactions such as “ew” and “that is really gross”.

The point of this mostly irrelevant story is that things are often unnecessarily difficult for those in possession of a uterus, something which anyone with a uterus will be able to tell you before you can say “GIVE ME SOME FUCKING SUBSIDISED TAMPONS BEFORE I LOSE MY SHIT I AM PMS’ING HARD TODAY AND MY SKIN LOOKS LIKE A DISCOUNT CALZONE .”

Former Seven Sharp reporter Kristin Hall, in a screenshot from one of her ‘period poverty’ stories

About a year ago, I did an interview with some women who ran the New Zealand branch of Days for Girls, charity which makes reusable sanitary products for women and girls in developing countries. They helped people in countries like Uganda, Papua New Guinea and the Phillipines, but as it turned out, New Zealanders need their help too. As the cost of living rose they had seen increasing demand for reusable pads for Kiwis who simply couldn’t afford any alternatives. They even had a deal with Middlemore Hospital after cleaning staff there had noticed new mums were so desperate they were shoving toilet paper from the hospital loos in their pants.

Over the following year I spoke to other girls and women with similar problems, Steph, a mum of 3 bled so heavily she had to forgo the 30 dollars she spent a month on conventional sanitary products, opting instead for rags, old towels and newspaper.

I spoke to ministers, most of whom made it quite clear that Kiwis having easier access to sanitary products was not the sort of thing they were interested in, or would ever be interested in.

Which is why I’m not particularly surprised that Pharmac has decided to shun the issue as well. After an application was lodged to fund sanitary products in New Zealand last year, the medical funding body has decided it didn’t fall within Pharmac’s scope.

This might be understandable, were Pharmac’s scope not so broad. Pharmac funds things like vitamins, acne products and gluten free foods. And yet Pharmac Director of Operations Sarah Fitt said the application “did not show a link to therapeutic benefits related to a health need”. Now this might be a little naïve, but I would have thought anything that prevents women from having the Dom Post headline permanently etched on their labia would have quite a significant therapeutic benefit indeed.

Perhaps the case is that the application simply didn’t tick all the boxes, perhaps an application from a medical professional would succeed, but given the reluctance I’ve seen from hundreds of Kiwis regarding this issue, I would say there’s another factor too.

When I covered my ‘period poverty’ stories for Seven Sharp, I got to experience the full weight of the literally ‘she’ll be right’ attitude we’ve come to be so proud of. I catalogued some of the comments I read, so I could bang my head on a table while reading them at a later date.

Margo reckoned that women should simply “find a way, ie rolled up cotton”. Cherie made a reference to the Great Depression, as if the obvious way to go forward is to actually go back 80 years to a time of global hardship and everything being incredibly shit. Some dude whose name I can’t remember but was probably Kevin or Nigel said those with periods should just shove sphagnum moss up there. SPHAGNUM MOSS. Some green slimy shit that grows on a rock. In your vag’.

Students in Uganda receiving homemade sanitary pad packages provided by NZ’s Days for Girls charity

Then there were the moon cup people who said we should be shunning pads and tampons altogether in favour of floppy egg cups. I don’t have a problem with those people because moon cups seem great but good luck telling a 15 year old who lives with her dad that she can’t have Libra like her friends coz she’s got this silicone cup thingo instead and god knows how you put it in there but anyway good luck with that.

It is my opinion that if men got periods, sanitary products would not only be free, but there would be a national holiday dedicated to the solemn suffering of Kiwi dudes and their cramping dongs. Women shut up and get on with it because that’s just a thing we tend to do, and what has come to be expected of us.

Fortunately, all is not lost on the period poverty front, just last week Women’s Minister Paula Bennett (the first minister to actually acknowledge the issue) announced $50,000 of extra funding for Kidscan to provide sanitary products in schools. Perhaps there will be more in future if politicians can be convinced it’s something people care about. But there are a lot of uterusses in this country, we need more, and the people at Pharmac should know that.

So I am pissed, I’m pissed partly because the rods have extended my time of the month to twice its usual length and I spent $5 on a box of tamps that I would have rather spent on a family pack of Peanut Slabs. But I’m also pissed because periods are both unwelcome and expensive and it all seems a bit unfair, and you should be pissed too.


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